The ongoing fight over universal pre-Kindergarten in New York City between Governor Andrew Cuomo and recently elected Mayor Bill de Blasio is more of a struggle for political supremacy than a whole-hearted expression of goodwill towards New York’s preschoolers. De Blasio’s proposal supports the program by increasing the tax rate on New York City residents with incomes over $500,000 by slightly more than half a percent. Cuomo, touting his approach as less partisan and more likely to pass through the state legislature, advocates using $1.5 billion in state funding over the course of five years.
When the governor released his state’s budget plan, he promised to completely fund universal pre-K for the state of New York––without offering any further details. Despite this vow, which would theoretically fulfill de Blasio’s campaign promise of establishing pre-K citywide, the mayor has continued to insist that the program should be funded by a tax on New York City’s wealthiest residents, indicating that he is not willing to compromise on his principles for the sake of expediency.
Cuomo’s intentions are political, not to mention self-serving: he is running for reelection later this year and needs the support of Republican voters, whose party currently hold a majority in the state Senate. Although New York City leans overwhelmingly to the left, upstate New York––a key voting bloc––is more conservative. His plan to cut taxes, while simultaneously funding a universal pre-K plan, offers concessions to both parties. While seeming like a win-win, this moderate approach risks not being able to fully fund universal pre-K.
That the governor’s priority in this situation to simply get a bill passed is apparent in the vagueness of his proposal. Governor Cuomo has not shown how exactly he plans to use the state budget to fund universal pre-K, and offers no ideas for what will happen after the five years are up. On the other hand, de Blasio’s proposal is concrete and comprehensive. He has backed up his proposal with plans for specific levels of funding which, if passed, can guarantee the fiscal health of pre-K beyond just five years.
Cuomo’s plan does not specify how the funding for the program will be allocated. By slashing taxes while also launching an ambitious and expansive new program, he risks a budget crisis. In addition, as with any state-financed program, the chances of miscommunication and poor management are higher. As de Blasio has pointed out, levying a tax to pay for universal pre-K would ensure that the program would at least be consistently funded. By not guaranteeing a specific funding source, Cuomo’s proposal is more likely to get lost in the mix of other issues when it comes to actually passing a state budget plan.
Although neither plan is perfect, de Blasio has outlined a better policy to fund universal pre-K. It may alienate some conservatives in New York City who are staunchly opposed to a tax increase on the wealthy, but when it comes to actual implementation, de Blasio’s plan will ensure that the job gets done. The specificity of his plan is rare in American politics. By outlining the details of his plans to the electorate, de Blasio cannot later go back on his word and twist his promises into unsubstantial legislation.
Preschoolers in New York City deserve far better than what they would get if Cuomo’s plan were to pass. In sacrificing his liberal principles for the sake of winning an election, Cuomo has outlined a path that is unlikely to succeed. Establishing high-quality universal pre-K is a goal that has escaped New York state legislators for over a decade. After years of broken promises and shoddy proposals, it appears de Blasio has a plan that might finally work. Although he might risk alienating voters, Cuomo should throw his support behind de Blasio’s vision for universal pre-K.